Mats Zuccarello, Carey Price, Brian Gionta, Benoit Pouliot,

PHT Morning Skate: Let the Eastern Conference Final begin

4 Comments

After a restful couple of days, it’s time to get the Eastern Conference Final started.

The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens each came away with seven-game victories in the second round and for the Rangers that made two consecutive series that went seven. Do the Rangers hit a wall any time soon or do they find a way to put a team away early? It’s only one of 1,000 questions that can be asked in this series.

With the Habs having home ice, they’re hoping things turn more like they did against Tampa Bay than they did with Boston. Hey, at least they’ve already earned the Rangers respect, right?

Game 1: Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers (1:00 p.m. ET — NBC)

There are legitimate curiosities for both teams going into this series, but perhaps the biggest one is how Henrik Lundqvist will fare.

Lundqvist’s history playing in Montreal is legitimately terrible. He hasn’t won at Bell Centre since 2009 and in four appearances there since that last victory, he’s 0-3-1 with an abysmal .862 save percentage. If those numbers don’t change in a hurry, the Rangers are in it deep or need Cam Talbot to play the part of the road game savior. If ever there was a time for King Henrik to figure it out it’s now.

Add in the fact Rick Nash is still looking for his first goal of the playoffs and you’d think the Rangers are doomed, yet here are the Canadiens in their first Eastern Final since 2010 when Jaroslav Halak led them deep into the postseason. Now it’s on Carey Price to be the man and, like Lundqvist, he’s been outstanding in the playoffs.

Unlike the Rangers, however, Montreal doesn’t have a big time player in a big time offensive funk. Their attack has been spread out well through the postseason and P.K. Subban has led the charge with four goals and 12 points. Subban is one of four players with four goals while Thomas Vanek has five.

These teams are separated by just over 350 miles and are Original Six squads that haven’t met in the playoffs since 1996. It’ll be fun to add another chapter to their history.

Hitch’s recipe for more goals is a pretty simple one

Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
AP
Leave a comment

Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.

Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.

“To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.

“When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”

According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.

The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).

Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.

The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.

St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.

Goalie nods: Lindback ‘really excited’ for first start in almost three weeks

Anders Lindback
AP
Leave a comment

Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.

The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.

Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.

Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.

Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.

Elsewhere…

— No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.

— Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.

A ‘pretty solid two-way player,’ Sundqvist to make NHL debut for Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins' Oskar Sundqvist (49) collides with Minnesota Wild's Jason Zucker (16) in the first period of a NHL preseason hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP
Leave a comment

The latest Penguins injuries, these ones to Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr, have led to an opportunity for Oskar Sundqvist.

Sundqvist will make his NHL debut for the Penguins tonight in Tampa. The 21-year-old center has five goals and 11 assists in 39 AHL games this season.

“Sunny’s a pretty solid two-way player,” coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Tribune-Review.

“I don’t think he’s going to dazzle you with flashy plays, but I think he’s a guy who plays the game the right way. He’s hard to play against because of his size. He’s got a long reach, and he’s got a good stick.”

Sundqvist was selected 81st overall by the Pens in 2012. He’ll become the fourth player out of that Pittsburgh draft class to make his NHL debut, after Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, and Matt Murray.

Veteran Matt Cullen will replace Malkin on the second line, skating with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.

Related: Nick Bonino out ‘at least a month’ with hand injury

John Scott’s wife gives birth to twin girls

Pacific Division forward John Scott looks into the stands during the NHL hockey All-Star championship game against the Atlantic Division Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Pacific Division won 1-0 and Scott was named most valuable player. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
AP
6 Comments

As if John Scott wasn’t already having a great week, now he’s the proud father of twin girls.

The Montreal Canadiens shared the good news via their Twitter account today.

Scott, the unlikely 2016 All-Star Game MVP, is currently back home in Michigan; however, he’s expected to resume his career at some point with Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

When, exactly, he suits up for the IceCaps remains to be seen, but it won’t be tonight or tomorrow.

Related: Therrien on Canadiens possibly recalling John Scott: ‘You never know’